Tuesday, 30 June 2009

SMAPXSMAP and Michael Jackson

Last night I watched SMAPXSMAP on TV. I haven't watched it for years but I wanted to see how Kusanagi was doing back on the show. Smap (Sports and Music Assemble People) is a boy band which formed in 1988 (when they were 16,15,14 and 11 years' old) and debuted their first album in 1991. There were originally six members: Masahiro Nakai, Takuya Kimura, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Goro Inagaki, Shingo Katori and another one who left to become a racing driver. Smap are a product of Johnny's Music Factory which specializes in boy bands. Japanese boy bands are great marketing tools because Japanese girls are the country's biggest spenders not only on music and ring tones but any product that a band member might eat, drink, wear or look at. If a boy band can 'catch a girl's heart' they can sell soft drinks, toxic snacks, hair products, and electronics, and their fortunes are made! At least until they are replaced in their early twenties. Boy bands generally have five or more members because girls hang out in large gangs so there will always be one boy who will appeal to every girl. Looks are all, talent is secondary. In fact, only one Smap member, Takuya Kimura can actually hold a note. But as my students say, Smap are "Ike mens". They are 'attractive men' so who cares? They feature in dramas, variety shows, films, in anime as voices and singing the theme songs, and A LOT of CM (commericals). You can't buy a snack in this city that Shingo Katori hasn't eaten first.

Their Monday night variety show began in 1996 and is still going 13 years' later, making Smap the immortals of the ephemeral 'J Pop' scene. Over the years the show has featured unfunny comedy, tedious games, a SMAP Bistro cooking competition and live songs which make your eardrums bleed. But SMAPXSMAP soldiers on and last night they were reminiscing about the time Michael Jackson surprised them on set. Whether Michael Jackson would have had any memory of the event is debatable since he seemed rather out of it most of the time.

So why was I checking on Kusanagi? On the morning of 23rd April at 3am, Kusanagi was arrested for being drunk and naked in a Tokyo park. He said to the arresting officers,"What's wrong with being naked?" and in the summer heat I have to agree with him. No doubt he too was fed up with the 28 degree aircon rule and was simply trying to keep cool the environmentally friendly way. Such an incident would have been played for laughs in the UK but by acting outside the perimeters of all the marketing contracts he held with various Japanese companies,he threatened their bottom line. Kunio Hatoyama the Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications was said to be 'furious'. (Kusanagi had a government contract with the ministry.) Consequently poor Kusanagi was forced into a humiliating apology on live TV. The event served to highlight a divide between corporate Japan and real people. Corporate Japan humiliated him, real people criticised the corporations for condemning behaviour that goes on all over Tokyo every night of the week. Indeed the very night of the incident I was coming home on the subway at about 10.30pm, (like most Japanese I work late)and I saw a man squatting on the floor. As I feared, he suddenly convulsed and projectile-vomited clear across the platform. It's a common occurence in a land which cannot hold its drink.

Last night Kusanagi was back on TV with his Smap buddies, acting just the way Japanese males on TV are supposed to. Like he'd been neutered.

More on Smap tomorrow ...

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